Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. addresses
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. addresses the Borough Board on Nov. 19.

Board unanimously votes down two key de Blasio initiatives

Bronx city council members and community board chairs resoundingly rejected Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” and “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” proposals in a 19-0 vote today at the New York Supreme Court building on the Grand Concourse, sending a clear message that the borough is united in its opposition to the mayor’s highly-touted housing agenda.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito cast the sole abstaining vote. She did not return a request from the Herald for comment.

Critics of the plan say it is not inclusive enough of the Bronx’s poorest residents.

The policy calls for preserving 80,000 apartments his administration deems affordable, while building 120,000 more within the next 10 years. The mandatory inclusionary housing proposal would require that developers set aside 25-30 percent of the apartments they build for low-income residents.

The issue has galvanized Bronx residents who believe the proposals do little to address the affordability crisis and housing shortages.

At a community hearing last week, residents expressed fears over the rising threat of displacement. They were critical of Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for attending developer Keith Rubenstein’s Halloween party in Port Morris in October, at which celebrities partied to a backdrop of burning cars, mocking the South Bronx’s troubled past.

Their anxieties were heard.

“So many different groups, organizations, and other concerned citizens came before our boards and my office to voice their concerns about these proposals,” said Diaz Jr. after the votes were tallied. “I add my voice to that opposition today, and I cast my vote against these items.”

The mayor’s plans were met with similar disapproval by community board members in Queens earlier this week. Twelve of the borough’s 14 community boards voted against the proposals.

Diaz criticized the mayor’s plan, calling it a “one size fits all approach.” He said that the Bronx’s more measured “neighborhood by neighborhood” approach to zoning has proven successful, adopting 14 rezoning measures since 2009.

“An issue that can be easily resolved in Riverdale does not fit a solution for Hunts Point,” said Dr. Ian Amritt, the chair of Community Board 2, which represents Hunts Point and Longwood. “We believe they should look at inclusionary housing as bringing in communities first and figuring out what’s best for them rather than imposing a value that really serves one set of people and not the other.”

Amritt recommended that the city recalculate the average median income to take Bronx workers’ meager wages into account.

“To adopt a federal standard AMI is an imposition on a district which really borders on poverty,” he said. “We are looking for an AMI that is more inclusionary of everyone.”

Diaz questioned how the mayor’s proposals will create the infrastructure and social services that will be necessary for current residents and newcomers alike.

“How will the additional seniors be serviced? Are there enough school seats for the children accompanying their parents as they move into new affordable units? Will existing transit options be able to handle a new influx of commuters?” he said.

Highbridge-based housing advocacy group Communities Action for Safe Apartments lauded Diaz for his opposition to the mayor’s plan.

“The people that we put into office really needed to hear the voices of the people, and in this case it was a massive voice,” said CASA representative Carmen Vega-Rivera, saying the mandatory inclusionary housing measure as it is currently drawn up would “destabilize the community. It is time to invest in those of us who are still here, those of us who need housing, who need jobs.”

Diaz concluded the meeting by urging Speaker Mark-Viverito and her colleagues “to heed the united voices of the Bronx—and the growing chorus of opposition in every corner of this city—and to stop this proposal when it comes before the City Council.”

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